How Chief Justice O'Connor hanged sick Dedan Kimathi

Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi. [File, Standard]

For four years he dodged numerous snares set by the government. There were a number of plots by fellow freedom fighters to assassinate him and assume his leadership.

Thousands of bounty hunters were combing every village and forest in Mt Kenya in search of Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, who had a price on his head.

But like most "wanted men", it took just one miscalculation for his own village mates to capture and hand him over to the colonial government, which hanged him on February 18, 1957, after a sham trial and hid his body, unwittingly immortalising him.

A perusal of his trial shows that on the day he was captured on the morning of November 21, 1956, Kimathi, who had disguised himself by wearing a leopard skin and cap, was carrying four roasted maize cobs and a bunch of sugar cane.

He had spent the night scavenging for food in Kahigaini village not very far away from his home on the verge of the Aberdare Forest in Tetu. He had roasted his maize but daylight caught up with him before he ate them.

Kimathi implored his captors not to shoot him as he was just about to give himself up. Nevertheless, he was shot in the thigh and immobilised. By the time he was handcuffed, he was bleeding and drifting in and out of consciousness.

The court was never told why the field Marshal went down without firing a single round from his Webley Scott revolver, which was still holstered at the time of his capture.

Chief Justice KK O'Connor who convicted Kimathi to hang on November 27, 1956, was gnawed by guilt for his role in hanging a sick man.

"Finally, I desire to say that I regret the necessity of holding this trial before the accused was fully recovered from his wound ... he has not been prejudiced in his defence by the fact that he is not yet able to walk and has not fully recovered."

Kimathi had told the court that he was epileptic, a fact that was confirmed by the provincial physician, Dr Turner, who explained it was likely for a patient to suffer a fit after being subjected to anaesthesia which could cause blurring and headaches and last for as long for 48 hours.

Even though Kimathi had undergone an operation to remove the bullet that had shattered his hip and backside, the court dismissed the possibility that at the time the charges were read to him a day after his capture he had suffered an epileptic fit.

The pistol which Kimathi failed to use to save his life and would ultimately cost him dearly was on O'Connor's orders forfeited to the State together with six rounds of ammunition.